It’s Time to Build That Library

If our society is no longer capable of debating banned books, then it’s time for Catholic parents and parishes to build up their libraries.

Home library
Home library (photo: diignat / Shutterstock.com)

I ban books.

In my 15-year reign as queen of the house, I have exercised with Draconian vigilance my right to decide what literature my children will and will not encounter. Amazon, controlling a measly 80% of the market at most, has nothing on my market share, which is 100%.

Parents know what I’m talking about. One of the challenges of raising children to be well-educated, thoughtful, and loving human beings involves knowing when to introduce them to challenging ideas, different world views, and the reality of human failures. And as their primary educators, we are responsible for meeting that challenge with love, practical wisdom and prudence.

I advocate a home culture of openness to the hard questions of life, because we cannot and should not try to shield our children from the realities of life and death, human sin and tragedy. A whitewashed world has no need for Jesus Christ or his redeeming act. There is no Easter without Good Friday, and children have a special capacity for trust: when we tell them that Christ will rise again in three days, they believe.

Prudence, however, tells us that the way in which and the age at which we encounter hard realities and sad human divisions is pivotal to helping children grow into a healthy adulthood.

Young children do not need to know, for example, the horrific details of the Shoah or exactly how St. Edmund Campion met his martyrdom. They can grasp the heroism without the horror, and so I put my accounts of the Righteous Gentiles and English martyrs on the highest bookshelf.

Your advanced 15-year-old may be ready for those terrible tales of human bravery. She may also be technically capable of reading Anna Karenina or Animal Farm, but it might also be better for her to first read healthy accounts of human consent and herself get through the most hormonal years of adolescence before trying to stand in the shoes of a woman consenting to seduction of one kind while a horse falls blindly into seduction of another.

In a more extreme example, some books and images should always be banned from the home. We know that exposure to pornography — particularly visual porn, but also written porn — not only affects a person’s brain, but also his or her ability to form healthy relationships.

So, yes. I debate and ban books, films and music. I also reserve them for later years when my children have grown in maturity, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and experience. My husband and I debate banning books, judging them on the merits of their artwork, their importance in history, and their appropriateness for the ages of our six children.

Big Tech and Big Corp (Amazon is both), however, are not parents and its customers are not 10-year-olds who think that book with a pretty Geisha on the front must be an innocent read-aloud about Japanese springtime. Neither is Amazon my local bookseller, who can curate his offerings at whim. “It’s a private business” does not cut it when you are the bookselling market.

When Amazon cancels books, they make themselves your new parents. When entire school districts decide that your children shouldn't read Homer, they make themselves your children’s parents. And these new parents aren’t just putting books on the shelf you can’t reach yet. They are burning the books.

The United States has a long history of fierce argument and public discourse over the practice of banning books. Individual books should be discussed and judged by educated adults based on their merits and failures. Will When Harry Became Sally and the Odyssey sit next to The Handmaid’s Tale on the 2021 Challenged Books List for Banned Book Week this fall?

The frightening question for me is whether our society is still capable of debating banned books.

If it is not, then as Catholic parents and parishes it is time to build some libraries. 

As parents in the world of Big Tech and Big Corp, we should be creating a “zone of freedom” for thought and debating with charity what texts we give our children and when. Our reading should not be dependent on digital formats or Amazon servers. We should discuss in community with our priests and fellow Catholics how to resist the monopoly of ideas that Amazon, the media and Big Government seeks to exercise.

In this way, we can raise our children in true freedom and knowledge of their own history, the natural law, the revelation of God in Christ Jesus and the joy of eternal life in him.

Shannon Mullen, Editor-in-Chief of CNA

Meet CNA’s New Editor-in-Chief, Shannon Mullen (July 31)

A new era has begun at the Catholic News Agency even as the news cycle continues to bring challenging stories both inside the Church and around the world. This week on Register Radio, we get to know Shannon Mullen, the new editor-in-chief of CNA. And then, we are joined by the Register’s Washington Correspondent, Lauretta Brown, to catch up on the latest pro-life news from the nation’s capital.